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Indian smartphones back in the game: Brands like Micromax, Lava ring loud again

The Financial Express logo The Financial Express 23-01-2021 Devika Singh
a close up of a hand holding a cellphone: These companies have set their sights on the lower price segment, eyeing feature phone users who may be looking to upgrade to smartphones soon. © Provided by The Financial Express These companies have set their sights on the lower price segment, eyeing feature phone users who may be looking to upgrade to smartphones soon.

After almost disappearing from the market in the past few years, Indian-origin mobile phone makers, including Micromax, Lava International and Karbonn Mobiles, are back in the game. In November, Micromax returned to the segment with its new brand called 'In Mobiles', while Lava marked its re-entry by launching a customisable smartphone range, 'MyZ'. Karbonn Mobiles, too, plans to introduce two smartphones by March.

Besides the obvious Made in India plank, the comeback strategy of these brands is to replicate the success of Chinese smartphone makers with top-notch specifications at even lower price points. Lava's MyZ series has been priced in the Rs 6,999-10,500 range, while Micromax is offering IN Note 1 at Rs 10,999 and IN 1b at Rs 6,999. Karbonn Mobiles, too, plans to launch its smartphones in the Rs 5,000-10,000 price segment.

"We plan to focus initially on the Rs 5,000-7,000 price band as there isn't much competition in this segment, and then we will gradually move upwards to Rs 10,000," says Pardeep Jain, MD, Karbonn Mobiles. The company plans to target tier II and III cities for these devices and is planning to tap its network of 45,000 retail touchpoints as well as e-commerce marketplaces to sell them. It plans to offer features such as 2GB RAM and 32 GB storage with over six inches of screen display under Rs 7,000 to draw consumers. Overall, the company plans to launch eight smartphone devices in 2021.

diagram © Provided by The Financial Express

Micromax is eyeing the 'millennial' target group for its new range of smartphones and an online-first strategy for retailing. The company initially launches its products online on Flipkart and its e-commerce platform, followed by offline retail, where it has a presence in 10,000 outlets. The company is also boosting its manufacturing capabilities.

"We have three state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities in India in Bhiwadi, Hyderabad and Rudrapur with a capacity of producing over 20 million phones annually," says a Micromax spokesperson.

These companies have set their sights on the lower price segment, eyeing feature phone users who may be looking to upgrade to smartphones soon.

Though these companies are operating in the feature phone segment, they had pulled back from the smartphone market after the onslaught of Chinese brands.

Xiaomi, OPPO and Vivo had forayed into the Indian market in the middle of the last decade, armed with feature-heavy affordable smartphones and manufacturing prowess, to aid mass production. Indian brands were unable to foresee the oncoming shift towards 4G phones, which presented an opening to Chinese companies.

Subsequently, the smartphone market share of Micromax and Lava, which stood at 16% and 6%, respectively, in 2015, as per Counterpoint Research, dwindled to below 1% in 2020.

Now, with the increasing anti-China sentiment in the country, the Centre's push towards Aatmanirbhar Bharat and backed by the government’s performance-linked incentive (PLI) scheme for mobile manufacturing, these companies are back in the segment.

As per experts, though these brands have made a good comeback attempt, their success depends on matching with Chinese smartphone players in terms of value for the price, multi-channel approach and marketing initiatives. "A set of Indian consumers would be keen on buying a home-grown brand. However, when it comes to shelling out money, the value being offered takes precedence," says Navkendar Singh, research director, IDC India.

Singh says since the residual brand value of these companies lies in markets where affordability is important, their game plan to enter the market below Rs 10,000 could prove to be effective.

But it is not going to be easy for these companies to dethrone Chinese brands, which command almost three-fourths of the smartphone market in the country. As some of the Indian brands already have an optimal presence in the offline market due to their feature phones, Prachir Singh, senior analyst at Counterpoint Research, says that they now need to forge partnerships with online marketplaces. "Availability, backed by marketing, will be key to their success, considering that Chinese smartphone brands are present in every nook and corner of the country," he adds.

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